Flat budget could be costly for Brunswick
$1.1M reduction could mean layoffs
BRUNSWICK — The Town Council could find itself mimicking many private companies and laying off employees if it pursues a 0 percent budget increase.
That was the message from interim Town Manager Gary Brown, who on Monday sought direction from the council on goals for the fiscal 2010 spending plan.
Brown said he would be forced to slice $1.1 million from the budget if the council wants to avoid any increase in the property tax rate. Brown added Wednesday that there was no "practical way" to avoid layoffs if a flat budget is the council's goal.
Councilor Karen Klatt and Chairwoman Hallie Daughtry argued that the town had to consider pay cuts or eliminating jobs to be fiscally responsible. Daughtry, who has called for a zero budget increase before, but relented when it came time to vote for increases, said the economic climate requires the council to make difficult decisions.
"We cannot raise taxes during the worst recession of our lifetime," Daughtry said.
"The private sector is cutting back," she added. "We cannot ask taxpayers to shoulder the greater burden. Since the bulk of our expenditures are salaries ... we need to do what others are doing."
Klatt argued that the council should consider salary cuts. However, Brown said that strategy wasn't practical since nearly 80 percent of town employees are unionized and work under collective bargaining agreements.
Several other councilors expressed a desire for a flat budget. However, many said it was unrealistic. Councilor Ben Tucker said he would support an increase of up to 4 percent, while others fell somewhere between 1 percent and 3 percent.
"We need to maintain the same level of services and account for losses in revenues," Tucker said.
Vice Chairman Benet Pols said the council shouldn't add to local job losses by laying off town employees.
"We should be very careful about shaving off jobs in order to shave off a marginal increase in a shared burden," Pols said.
He said it was unlikely the town could cut services by $1.1 million, noting that the town's annual appropriation for Curtis Memorial Library is about $1 million.
The School Department, which has recently accounted for more than 60 percent of the town's spending, is mulling a budget increase of about $300,000.
Brown said the school budget increase, combined with projected decreases in collections from motor vehicle excise tax and state revenue sharing, amount to an approximate 3 percent budget increase. The increase includes flat-funding all town departments.
Brunswick's current mil rate is $22.54 per $1,000 of property valuation.
Brown told the council he would deliver a budget proposal in the coming weeks.
"It's not going to be a pleasant task," he said. "I'm sure it's not going to be warmly received by everyone."